NBA Star Zion Williamson Says ‘80%’ Of Players Love Anime

Slam Dunk

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In a recent article about GQNew Orleans Pelicans star Zion Williamson talks about his love for Narutoto the point where it eventually becomes the focal point of the entire function.

If you think I’m kidding, in just two paragraphs we see things like:

Williamson talks about Naruto with the same reverence that other NBA players talk about the Bible — it brings comfort and clarity in equal parts. Over the course of the past year—an unusually tumultuous year in his otherwise stellar career—Naruto has been his pole star.

That “tumultuous” year is one in which Williamson was injured, couldn’t get better, gained a lot of weight and constantly questioned his future in New Orleans (and in the league itself). It is clear that Zion For real Loves Narutoto the point where he showed up to a Comic-Con panel wearing a Hokage robe, and the fact that he gives it so much credit for helping him recover and prepare for the upcoming season.

However, what really caught my attention in the feature is this (emphasis mine):

Zion estimates that about 80% of the players in the league like anime; they just won’t admit it. Those familiar with the conventions of the form know that it would be difficult to come up with a genre better suited to professional athletes: Shōnen anime (the term for shows aimed at boys) often revolves around a protagonist striving to achieve greatness in their chosen field, it’s piracy on the high seas (One Piece) or fighting alien warlords with energy blasts so powerful your hair turns golden (Dragon Ball Z). They are long stories about what it takes to be the best – not coincidentally the same goal that drives athletes.

That statistic is both wild and completely believable. Most NBA players are in their twenties, meaning they grew up in a culture where anime has long outgrown the (often unfair) weeaboo associations, and where Japanese series like Dragon Ball Z are not only part of the furniture, but especially resonate with young black men, who make up most of the competition.

Now I’m not going to say that Zion is the only NBA player to have made his love of anime public. This is Steven Adams in 2016:

And even more famously, here’s 2018 superstar Joel Embiid relaxing during his pre-game routine:

And that’s before we get into the small but important lineup of players who have gone on record to talk about their love for Dragon Ball Zsuch as Embiid’s teammate Tobias Harris and Cavs forward Lauri Markkanen.

But if Zion’s 80% figure is even remotely true – he’s entering his third season in the league, he’s been in enough locker rooms and training field talks to at least make a fair guess – then there would be must be much more of this. There are 450 players in the NBA, which would bring the number of anime fans to hundreds, not tens. We could and should see more things like pre-match dance routines, post-match interview quotes from Slam Dunk and players with nicknames of Killed La Killed instead of old DC comics.

Perhaps many players feel that there is still some sort of stigma attached to it, that they look nerdy and weak due to (outdated and incorrect) association. But shit, if Zion and Joel Embiid – two of the biggest, baddest guys in the NBA – can be here like this, anyone can.

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